BMW PGA Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
AND so it all comes down to the BMW PGA Championship. At the conclusion of the European Tour’s flagship event, Padraig Harrington will name the players who will complete Europe’s Ryder Cup team. One of the worst-kept secrets in the game is that the Irishman is going to hand two of his wild cards to Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.
The Spaniard has shown some decent form this year and was a winner on the PGA Tour in the season that has just ended. It is more difficult to make a case for Poulter, but Harrington is clearly banking on the Englishman rising to the occasion once more.
But before that there is some important business to be concluded as Tyrrell Hatton defends his title at Wentworth.
Hatton will be joined at Wentworth by his fellow 2018 Ryder Cup stars Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose, as well as the 2020 Race to Dubai Champion Lee Westwood and Poulter. The only leading Europeans who will be missing are Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy.
With the Ryder Cup at the end of the month, McIlroy has decided that he needs to take some time off to recharge his batteries after a less than inspiring season.
"I think having two weeks off after the Tour Championship is going to be nice,” said McIlroy. "I was planning to go over to Wentworth to play the BMW PGA, but it's just too much travel. And with what's coming up with Ryder Cup, that's a long week, no matter if you're in Europe or the States, especially as I haven't missed a session yet. So say I play five sessions again, yeah, it's a really long week.
"So the two weeks off after the Tour Championship are going to be well needed, and I'll go in there nice and refreshed and ready to give it my all."
"I feel like a lot of guys feel right now, a little jaded, a little tired," McIlroy said. "End of the season, there's been a lot of golf, so a lot of travel."
The 2019 BMW PGA Championship winner and 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett will also tee it up on the West Course, along with Matt Fitzpatrick and four-time European Tour winner Matt Wallace.
They will all be hoping to put on a show for the returning home fans at the Surrey venue, which will host some of the biggest stars in world golf in what is the final counting event for qualification to Harrington’s European Ryder Cup team, as they attempt to retain the famous trophy against the United States two weeks later at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Last year, Hatton claimed his first BMW PGA Championship title and his fourth Rolex Series victory, courtesy of a dominant four-stroke victory at Wentworth. He climbed into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career in the process.
The 29-year-old has since spent most of the year in the world’s top 10, holding his own as England’s highest-ranked golfer and winning another Rolex Series title at January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I am really excited about returning to defend my BMW PGA Championship title,” said Hatton. “To have the fans back at Wentworth is going to be pretty incredible and I’m sure they will create a memorable atmosphere. I was over the moon to put my name on the BMW PGA Championship trophy last October as this tournament has meant so much to me down the years. Defending that title in front of the home fans will be an extra special experience.”
The tournament has attracted a stellar cast, including Viktor Hovland, Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Perez, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren, Rasmus Hojgaard, American Billy Horschel, and Guido Migliozzi.
Wiesberger and Perez have slipped outside the automatic Ryder Cup qualifying places, and a big week for either of them could change everything. The same applies to Hojgaard, Noren and Migliozzi, who could yet force their way into the team. It is going to be fascinating to see how they all cope with the added pressure and attention.
Hatton came through a thrilling final-round tussle with Perez to claim a four-stroke victory last year. He posted a five-under 67 during an exciting final day at Wentworth to finish on 19 under and pull clear of Perez, who held a share of the lead on several occasions during the final day.
Perez bogeyed two of his last six holes to settle for a final-round 68 and end the week in second, while Andy Sullivan fired a round-of-the-day 65 to jump into tied-third alongside Patrick Reed.
Hatton saw his overnight lead quickly disappear when Perez - playing in the group ahead - followed a birdie-two at the second by holing a 20-foot eagle at the par-five fourth, only for the Englishman to edge back ahead by ending a run of pars by converting from 12 feet at the fifth.
Perez responded by firing his approach to tap-in range at the seventh and reached the turn in a share of the lead, as Sullivan closed within one after following a front-nine 30 with birdies at the 12th and 14th.
Hatton drained a 25-footer at the ninth, holed another from nearly 40 feet at the next and then matched Perez's tap-in birdie at the 11th, only for the Frenchman to get up-and-down from the sand to pick up another shot at the next.
Both players bogeyed the 13th, with Hatton missing a five-footer to save par and then also squandering a birdie opportunity from inside 10 feet at the next, but the overnight leader rolled in a 12-foot birdie at the 15th to move into a two-shot lead with three to play.
Perez saw his hopes ended when a wild drive at the 17th saw him having to punch back into play from the trees and make bogey, as Hatton narrowly avoided finding water with his approach into the par-five last before getting up and down for a closing birdie.
Ian Poulter signed off a bogey-free 68 to claim fifth spot ahead of Eddie Pepperell, while Joachim B. Hansen - who played alongside Hatton in the final group - ending in a share of seventh with Fitzpatrick and Renato Paratore.
Shane Lowry and Fleetwood both carded final-round 73s to drop into the group on nine under, while 2019 champion Danny Willett ended his title defence with a four-under 68 to finish in tied-32nd.
The West Course at Wentworth, which is the home of the European Tour, has been much changed in recent years. It features many large greens, thousands of mature trees and demands accuracy from the tee. There are also some water features to be avoided. It measures 7,284 yards.
It was won in 2015 by Ben Ann, in 2016 by Chris Wood, in 2017 by Alex Noren, in 2018 Francesco Molinari, in 2019 by Danny Willett and last year by Tyrrell Hatton
There will be much focus on Tyrrell Hatton, the defending champion, but he failed to make it to the Tour Championship at East Lake. After a promising start to the season and a victory in Abi Dhabi, Hatton has struggled for much of 2021, but he is a big-time player and will surely be in contention at Wentworth. Bernd Wiesberger will be looking for a big week after his bitter disappointment at Crans-sur-Sierre, when a double-bogey at the 72nd hole cost him the European Masters - a victory that would have tied down his Ryder Cup berth. The Austrian is a serial winner and is desperate to make Harrington’s team. Noren is another former PGA champion who will be looking for his best form at Wentworth. And I have a sneaky feeling that Guido Migliozzi is going to give Harrington something to think about. The highlight of an outstanding year was his tied-fourth finish at the US Open, a performance that convinced him he can compete with the very best. Billy Horschel is fourth in the Race to Dubai and is not travelling across the Atlantic to make up the numbers. He won the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay at Austin Country Club in March.
Guido Migliozzi. A class act with a big future
Tyrrell Hatton. Could do with a confidence-building week
Bernd Wiesberger. Desperate to tie down his Ryder Cup berth
Five to Follow:
Guido Migliozzi. Wonderful ball striker
Tyrrell Hatton. Keep your cool Tyrrell. Please
Bernd Wiesberger. Would be gutted to miss out on Whistling Straits
Alex Noren. Swede is showing his best form again and knows what it takes to get the job done at Wentworth
Billy Horschel. Not here to make up the numbers
Five Outsiders to Watch:
Sami Valimaki. Capable of going really low
Tom Lewis. Looking to put a disappointing year on the PGA Tour behind him
Matthias Schwab. Overdue a win
Ryan Fox. Will contend if he can keep it out of the trees
Andy Sullivan. All depends on his putter
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